Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Short Victorious War, by David Weber

This week I've returned once again to the Honorverse to check on Honor Harrington, who I've come to consider a sort of friend, and see what she's been up to. Although I was rather pleased with this particular book, I was starting to feel a sense of repetition to this series as well, at least in a very general sense. Honor gets a new ship. Honor gets sent on a mission. There are challenges on this mission that she must overcome. The final act of the book culminates in an epic space battle where Honor's ship is badly damaged. Honor emerges victorious and is promoted and rewarded. I do hope things get a little more sophisticated in later books, especially if she gets promoted to admiral rank, but I'm finding Honor's career and the inevitable space battles almost boring by comparison with all the other stuff going on in these books.

Overall in terms of plot the war between Manticore and Haven is about to break out and Haven is moving its final elements into position before launching what it hopes will be a short and victorious war to achieve their strategic goals as well as quell internal dissent back home. Meanwhile Manticore is trying to figure out where and when Haven will strike, tackling the challenges of delayed interstellar communication. It makes for a very interesting political drama and in some ways the intensity of the space battles actually pales in comparison, for me at least, with both Manticore and Haven's larger struggles. Honor, of course, has been promoted again as commander of the HMS Nike, a freshly minted battlecruiser and one of the crown jewels in the Royal Manticore Navy's fleet. Honor will also be serving as the flag captain for one of the task group admirals assigned to Hancock Station, giving her a real taste of squadron command as higher ups in the RMN begin grooming Honor for flag rank. While I certainly enjoy seeing Honor, a very competent and capable commander, work her way up the system, as I said her career seems almost a diversion from the larger events in which she plays a small role.

I will admit that the fact this series is basically just Horatio Hornblower, but IN SPACE! starts coming through very evidently in this installment. Especially when a Havenite politician named Rob S. Pierre gets a group of people to sign an agreement in a tennis court and ends up chairman of the Committee of Public Safety. I almost get the feeling Weber is nudging us in the ribs saying, "Get it? Get it? History!" To which I find myself smiling and nodding, "Yes Dave, you're very clever." And honestly? I'm really in favor of it. I like science fiction. I like history. Science fiction history in space is just really cool and fun for me. And as long as the books continue to remain fun to read I'm going to keep reading.

My other big issue with this book was the return, once again, to Honor's personal history and Pavel Young's attempted rape of her while they were in military academy. On the one hand, how the book handles it is very realistic and positive in many respects. Pretty much everyone was or continues to be on Honor's side in the vendetta, just wishing she'd admit he attempted to rape her so they can throw his ass out of the service. Furthermore such a traumatic experience has left Honor very hesitant to engage in romantic relationships with anyone, content with the companionship of Nimitz, and focusing on her career instead. Which I think is very realistic of many rape victims having trouble trusting people for years afterwards. On top of that, Honor still has body-image issues because she was a gangly teenager, despite even though everyone asked and the narration goes out of the way to assure us that she has a mature beauty now. Again, it's very realistic for people to have body image issues as well, which can last for years or exist only because they don't match a certain often unrealistic standard of beauty. So in a way it sort of fleshes out Honor because even though she's a badass space captain she's got personal issues just like the rest of us.

On the other hand, her problems seem to be "fixed" by getting herself a good man. Don't get me wrong, I'm in favor of Honor having a happy relationship and potentially several fat children to continue the lineage of Honor's newly minted noble house. And pretty much all the other characters are hugely in favor of Honor getting some action too, because heck she deserves it. The problem is that being in a relationship is portrayed as a "fix" to Honor's problems when that's just not realistic in any sense. It's all too often that fiction says all your problems can be fixed if you can find yourself in a relationship. Hell, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is made up of this trope. But that's not how real relationships work and it hurts everyone to have relationships portrayed as such in fiction.

Issues aside, and as I have clearly shown I have a few, I rather like this book and if you've read the previous two books then you pretty much know what to expect by this point. Weber's writing is excellent, as always, and his ability to paint a large picture makes for fascinating reading. Now that Haven and Manticore are officially at war I look forward to the conflict becoming much larger and impressive in scope, as well as seeing how both states survive under the strain of warfare. IN SPACE!

- Kalpar

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